Social expectations about digital etiquette have never been more in flux. The solution? Avoid worrying about it altogether
You know you’ve reached a crisis point in your email backlog when you’re obliged – as I was recently – to confront the following conundrum of electronic etiquette: is it ruder to reply to an email after three months than not to reply at all? On one hand, obviously, not replying is obnoxious. On the other, at least it lets the sender imagine that you missed their message entirely, or even that it never arrived; a reply implies, insultingly, that I had three months’ worth of more important things to do first (and/or that I’m hopelessly overwhelmed by emails – which is true, and particularly embarrassing, given that I’ve championed various systems for taming the monster in this very column).
In the end, I opted to reply. But even then I didn’t get closure on the matter, because of course the recipient didn’t say she was offended and, this being email, I had no facial expressions or vocal inflections by which to judge. The internet: helping us understand each other less well since 1969.